Health Benefits of Dairy for Student Athletes

Photo: The Grainger High School Lady Grizzlies (Tennessee) enjoy chocolate milk after practice.

According to the “Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America” survey, 69 percent of girls and 75 percent of boys currently participate in organized and team sports. Children participating in team sports receive several health benefits including improved physical fitness, reduced body fat levels, decreased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, better bone health, increased self-esteem and emotional well-being. Nutrition plays a key role in athletic performance and recovery, yet many student athletes show up to practice dehydrated and undernourished.

When you need to fuel multiple practices per day and long tournaments, here are four tips to make sure your student athlete is well nourished with the health benefits of dairy.

  1. Hydrate Every Hour

Preventing dehydration starts with your athlete drinking consistently throughout the day. Skipping meals will further compound dehydration, as food can contribute about 20 percent of your daily fluid needs. Young athletes should aim to eat breakfast every day. Breakfast not only boosts brain power for academic success, but provides fuel for young athlete’s bodies for practices and competition later in the day. Try this strawberry banana smoothie as an easy breakfast to jumpstart your athlete’s day. The milk and yogurt in the smoothie are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are three health benefits of dairy that youth are often lacking in their diets.

For practice or competition, make fluids easily accessible. Sports drinks containing energy from carbohydrates and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, hydrate better than plain water and are appropriate when intense physical activity will extend beyond one hour. Remember to use sports drinks appropriately. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, routinely drinking sports beverages can lead to an excess consumption of calories and put youth at risk of becoming overweight and obese.

  1. Power Up with Protein

Student athletes need strong muscles for good athletic performance and muscles are made of protein. Young athletes should be aware of lean protein choices and select them over frequently consumed burgers, bacon, sausages, and fried foods. The health benefits of dairy are excellent sources of natural, high-quality protein to help build lean muscle. Some examples of lean protein meals and snacks include:

  • Eight ounces of low-fat chocolate milk with one cup fresh fruit
  • An English muffin, toasted with one slice of low-fat American cheese, one cup low-fat yogurt, and one cup fresh fruit
  • Three ounces roasted turkey or ham on whole grain bun with one cup fresh fruit
  1. Carbohydrates are Crucial

Carbohydrates are the key fuel source needed during intense physical activity. Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars are mainly glucose, which is easily digested by the body. When a game or practice is going to extend beyond an hour and it’s less than two hours until game time, simple carbohydrates like a small bag of pretzels, a banana, or a four-ounce container of yogurt are crucial, as they can be quickly utilized for energy. At all other times, young athletes will benefit most from nourishing sources of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.

  1. Recover and Repeat

Recovery nutrition will make a difference for the athlete that needs to head back out on the field and repeat an intense performance the next day. The best practice is to have a mini meal or snack within an hour and a full and balanced meal within two to three hours after the intense effort is over. With its affordable combination of lean protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluid, chocolate milk is a great after-practice or post-game beverage. Chocolate milk also provides calcium and vitamin D, bone-building nutrients needed for young athletes growing bodies. This Chocolate Banana Frappe is a protein-filled, chocolate treat, making it an excellent recovery drink for young athletes.

Stephanie Yow, MS, RD, CSP, LD

Southeast Dairy Association - Stephanie Yow